House Republicans Give Up on Debt Limit, Like Everyone Knew They Would

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 11 2014 10:25 AM

House Republicans Give Up on Debt Limit, Like Everyone Knew They Would

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Boehner rules! But the "Boehner rule" is over.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

A week ago I justified my decision to ignore the current rounds of debt limit negotiations in the House by explaining that the GOP would inevitably cave. "The conservative wing fully expects a sellout," I wrote, while "the less conservative wing wants to make Democrats vote to fund Obamacare again but is ready to accept the Senate's inevitable move to split the riders from the debt limit." 

Since then, Republicans have huddled three times to talk about the debt limit strategy. Their demands have shrunk from "ending the Obamacare bailout" to "restoring the military pension cuts of the 2013 budget deal" (which would increase spending, but whatever) to, finally—nothing. Here, this should explain:

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As expected, the failure of 217* Republicans to agree on demands has ended in total surrender and a clean debt limit bill. They'll put it up and expect victorious Democrats to join a few dozen Republicans, and pass it.

"When you don't have 218 votes," shrugged John Boehner after today's meeting of House Republicans, "you have nothing." Did this mean the end of "the Boehner rule," that any increase in the debt limit would be matched by an equal amount of spending cuts or reforms?** "I hope not."

Spoiler: It does. This isn't even a fun or surprising story—it's a tale of the White House winning a 2013 showdown with Republicans, and of Republicans going on to convince themselves that they should take the loss and try to win the 2014 elections. Yes, at last month's House Republican retreat, the party was talking about some revised demands for the debt limit negotations. But they were also told by columnists and pollsters that the 2013 government shutdown had been a disaster for them, and that repeating it would weaken them in November.

*Given the three vacancies in the House, the majority needs one fewer vote than usual to pass a bill.

**"Or reforms" was added later.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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